hello. this is bbc news. the headlines at 8.30pm: jill saward, who became a campaigner against sexual violence after being raped at her father's vicarage, has died at the age of 51. the attorney general said she had helped to ensure that victims were placed at the heart of the criminaljustice system. i want people to understand how much ofa i want people to understand how much of a trauma rape is and what you do go through. two people have died and at least five others were injured after a car bomb exploded outside a court house in the turkish city of izmir. police say two of the attackers were shot dead, but another is on the run. a new survey suggests britain's service sector is growing at its fastest pace for 17 months. the justice secretary wants to close a loophole which allows domestic abusers to cross—examine former partners during some court hearings in england and wales. now on bbc news, hardtalk.
welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. after six years of terrible bloodshed, could 2017 dramatically shift the dynamic of the syria conflict? change is in the air. aleppo has fallen to the assad regime and a ceasefire deal brokered by russia and turkey is just about folding. moscow's dominant role in the diplomatic endgame is now undisputed with ankara playing a pivotal role as well. my guest is bassma kodmani of the negotiating team of the syrian opposition. is it time for the moderate rebels to accept their de facto defeat? bassma kodmani in paris,
welcome to hardtalk. hello, stephen, thank you. it's a pleasure to have you on the programme. let me start with a question that comes directly from the new year. do you see 2017 bringing with it better prospects for an end to the conflict in syria then we have seen at any time in the previous, almost, six years? i do, carefully optimistic, but i do. i do hope and we are working towards making 2017 the end of the disaster of the tragedy and the beginning of a political transition.
that is what we are hoping for and the coming weeks will tell us whether we are moving in that direction but there is certainly a turning point and certainly something to build on at the moment with the new players that have asserted themselves and i think there is space for diplomacy now if the signals coming out from moscow and from turkey as well as, very carefully, from tehran, if these signals are sincere then we have some hope for a political settlement, yes. i want to talk about the key players and their signals in a minute butjust taking up your phrase about a turning point. would it be fair to say that the defeat of the anti—assad forces in aleppo was a fundamental turning point? certainly, the military confrontation has turned to the advantage of the assad regime.
why? simply because it had the full and massive support of russian air force on one hand and pro—iranian militia, sectarian militias on the ground as ground forces. very little was done by assad's forces, it was by one key regional power and one key international power so it was obvious the outcome was not going to be in favour of the opposition. but one needs to look back five years ago 01’ even six years ago when the uprising started. those who rose up against assad had no arms, no military means at all so we are looking at a confrontation that is ending militarily but the ingredients for a conflict and the confrontation is still there. if we are going to build on the military balance of forces, i don't think we will go very far
in either defeating terrorism in syria or in ending the conflict and having a satisfactory political transition. the people of syria and goodness knows that they have suffered so much, they have seen well over 300,000 of their people killed, they have seen 12 million and more displaced including 5 million who have left the country altogether. with that in mind, is this the right time for you in the so—called moderate anti—assad opposition who have been aligned with the united states and the saudis in particular, would it be the right time to acknowledge that you have lost out here? you wanted assad to go and those who have prevailed, the russians in particular and the iranians as well, they are the people who are insistent that assad need not and will not go? to be fair to the opposition,
it has sought support from democratic countries, it has received very little support and obviously the assad regime has received massive support. russia has decided syria would be the place where it would signal its international power, stature and military might. we have seen it happen on our territory. it is not because we chose to align ourselves with this or that party. we as syrians are asking for dignity, rights, freedom and security and the right to life today for every syrian and for that to happen, we will be working with any country serious about organising and facilitating a political transition. we have tried it with assad himself directly for ten years, then the population rose against assad for six years. did not receive any
concession, none whatsoever. we look to all the powers in this world and if russia is serious about brokering a settlement in syria, it will find a partner among the moderate opposition, both military and political. these are people who the moderate political opposition is very clear about. the state needs to remain. there has to be continuity of governance, we need to restore security to syria because we know the international community is worried about international terrorism coming out of syria. if i may, let me read between the lines. you acknowledge the russians are driving the process, no question. the americans with 0bama in his final days as president, with donald trump singing a very different tune, the americans aren't really in this game at the moment and as far as you're concerned, you are now ready, are you, to undertake the peace
negotiations the russians want, to be, they say, hosted in astana, kazakhstan, with the turks and the iranians playing key roles with no sign of the americans? are you with your team in the high negotiations council of the opposition prepared to participate in that process? look, i believe if these talks were to take place in astana or geneva or any other place, if they are placed under the terms of reference, if the terms for the talks are clear, if they refer to un resolutions which russia has voted for, there is no problem in participating in such a process. russia is brokering a cessation of hostilities on the ground. if this holds, the parties will be ready to go whether they are military or political. what we would like to see is certainly the new us administration step in and take some responsibility in brokering
this political arrangement. we have russia telling us it is serious about political settlement. we have turkey playing a positive role but so far we have not had a positive role from iran. let us admit that iran has been the key spoiler. sectarian militias on the ground are our key problem today in syria. they are fuelling jihadis on the opposition side. what we need as a priority is a coalition of countries, and the trump administration should be part of that, to push out both sectarian militias who are poisoning the ground inside syria. i will push you on this a little bit. you can say what should happen and what you would like to happen but let's deal with reality, what is happening. the us is not playing a role and the un, frankly, has been sidetracked as well.
the russians are dominating the diplomacy right now and i want a simple yes or no answer. are you prepared to go to peace talks that are brokered and controlled by russia? the russians who don't see a reason to insist that assad be removed from power. are you prepared to undertake and participate in those talks under russian auspices? the russians are referring to the un resolutions. if that is clearly the case, there is no problem in participating. the opposition can go. what i'm saying is the trump administration, the us congress, are clearly coming out against iranian behaviour across the middle east because it has really destabilised the region. that is where we can expect the trump administration will play a role in pressuring iran to limit its presence across the region. it's iraq, syria, lebanon, yemen, everywhere in the region and we have a real problem
there with the shia militias on the ground. we cannot get rid of sunni jihadis whether it is daesh, al nusra, radical groups, if we have this poisonous presence of shia militias on the side of the regime. this is where iran needs to come to terms with what needs to happen on the ground in order for syria to see a peaceful settlement. on one point of detail, yesterday a coalition of 12 or so different anti—assad forces on the ground said they were going to reject any further diplomacy under the russian—astana tent because of what they described as systematic violations of the ceasefire agreement by assad forces on the ground. if that your position as well or you prepared to say that the ceasefire is holding in a satisfactory way? unfortunately the ceasefire
is not holding. these groups are the ones who signed with russia and russia signed on behalf of the regime, an agreement for cessation of hostilities. the groups abided by the ceasefire and the syrian regime is notabiding. what the groups are asking is for our russia to get the assad regime to behave, to comply and enforce the cessation of hostilities. if it is credible, a political negotiation can happen. these groups are willing to go to astana, they signed, they said they were going and now we see the other side is not respecting any of that. we need russia to put pressure needed, and it can do so, on iran and the syrian regime if it was a political settlement. i personally believe that russia today has an interest in finding an exit strategy through a political settlement.
i would expect it will do so. have you and other negotiators who have aimed your efforts mostly at the un track in geneva, have you reached out with key russian officials? through the united nations we have contacts with everyone involved in this crisis. with respect, i don't mean through the un track. the financial times reported last month that some moderate leaders had covert and secret talks with russian officials hosted by the turks in ankara. have you been involved in that? the turks have hosted talks with military groups and lots of political figures from the opposition have also been in touch directly with russia. some have gone to moscow and some have met them elsewhere. there are many messages passed on to the russians and they know
exactly where the opposition stands and what it is willing to negotiate. really, the problem today is not so much russia and the opposition. they know each other, or they understand each other‘s position. we are willing to operate and negotiate under the political transition, fine, we can go to a negotiation on political transition... if i may say, we have talked before and you have always in the past said, you know what, it's quite simple, the removal of assad, no role for us that in the transition. that is a dealbreaker dealbreakerfor us. we cannot sign anything or engage in any process that involves assad. it seems to me that you must be changing your mind. if you say you believe in russia's good faith and believe in their desire to see the conflict ended, we know the russians don't feel that assad has
to go so presumably, to have given ground on that, have you? look, can i say very simply, we read the international equation. here's the balance of forces on the ground, here is what russia is seeking to achieve, a political settlement, fine, along the lines of resolutions in the un, to talk about political transition. that is fine for us. what assad becomes is how he behaves in these negotiations. is he in a position to make concessions, to yield some of his prerogatives, a lot of his prerogatives, most of his prerogatives, any of his prerogatives, to a transition government? if that is the case then the discussion changes but do you think the opposition... he might be leading the transition. he cannot lead it. what? he obviously cannot lead it. he is not showing any indication other than destroying communities and starving people.
we need to see some behaviour that is positive on the other side, then we will have a partner for peace. if we don't, i think russia will come to terms with the fact that it doesn't have a party on the other side and cannot ask the opposition to do much to work with assad if assad doesn't want to work with the opposition. the equation is fairly easy, you know. we are not asking for assad to go away the day we enter negotiations. we are talking about negotiations in which there are give and take. we need prisoners out, we need women and children to be safe and to be released also from prisons. we need the disappeared, to have news about them. we need to have the bombings stop and barrel bombs stop being thrown at civilians. i'm sorry to repeat myself. i don't want to get stuck on this issue, but one last time, it does seem to me that you have given ground on the role of assad. you are now acknowledging to me that assad will be a key figure
in the negotiations. he won'tjust be removed, it will be assad in many ways who is the figure deciding what he can give. look, the power of assad is very little. he has nuisance power, yes, but those who are negotiating, the decision—making power is in moscow and tehran. unfortunately there is no syrian regime that can still decide on a yes or no. that is why we are talking to russia. we will be talking to the countries and parties that support the assad regime, not so much the regime itself. we need to find some reasonable voices over there, we have not seen them so far, he has prevented them from rising and if negotiations can bring those reasonable voices out and if we can talk to them and have them safely talk to us without being themselves punished for showing some reasonable behaviour, then we will have
a negotiated process. otherwise i think russia will understand, iran is more difficult, but russia will understand that it doesn't have a helpful partner out there and needs to work differently with the opposition. everything we are talking about is couched in terms of moscow, putin, russia. let's reflect on how we got to where we are today. do you feel desperately let down, maybe even betrayed by the 0bama administration? i think the 0bama administration has opted out. it should have played the role that was what a us role should be in this region. 0pting out of this region is abandoning certain responsibilities vis—a—vis syria but also vis—a—vis the whole region, iraq, the gulf countries. we are in a region where the us was a key player. it cannotjust pull out as it did and in the case of syria,
it is the syrian population, yes, that is paying the price. yes, we are disappointed. 0bama, he steered away from obviously any significant military action against assad. it looked possible for a while, he walked away from it. he talked, or at least hillary clinton talked for a while about some sort of aerial intervention to establish safe havens. they walked very long, long way from that. they talked about training moderate forces on the ground. well, the training programme turned out to be pitiful. actually farcical. so when you look at all of those elements of what the administration talked about and didn't deliver, give me your final verdict as 0bama is about to leave office. well, i believe he should have thought of where security, how to restore security in syria and today that is our concern. the 0bama administration has decided that there was no possibility to challenge russia.
he certainly should have challenged russia at some point and at those turning points, he failed us, he certainly did. but what we are looking at today is can we bring back security to syria? because this is the concern of the international community. unfortunately, no one is thinking of assad. assad can sit there, they don't see the risk and they don't see the link between terrorism rising and assad staying in power. fine, but what we are seeing today is if you want to bring an alternative to the horrible, criminal system that we have in syria, then we have to have a security plan for this country and we need the cooperation of every country. we need the us, we need russia. your message to donald trump then, donald trump the man who says vladimir putin is very smart and who also says that when it comes to analysing the serious situation, his objective and his overriding concern is smashing the jihadists in so—called islamic state.
it doesn't seem to be in getting rid of assad whatsoever. so your message to trump? the message to trump is get the foreign fighters out of syria. shia militias, pro—iranian, they are iraqis, they are afghans, they are iranians, they are not syrians and on the other side, there are jihadis who are foreigners and we want them out of the country. this is what the international community needs to help the reasonable syrians in order to achieve the coming weeks and months. that's when we can have the ground for a political settlement. we don't have much time left and i just want you now to reflect on the six years that have brought us here. you have been actively involved with the opposition throughout that six—year period and here we are with russia in the ascendancy, with the americans opted out and with donald trump singing a tune that doesn't sound like it is going to suit you very well, and on the ground, the opposition forces defeated
in aleppo and on the defensive in those pockets of territory they still retain. is it time for you to quit, for the opposition to say, we tried, we failed, the country has been ruined and the best thing now is to walk away and accept defeat because that is the only way we can save further life? this is our country. we cannot give up. giving up makes no sense. what we are looking to achieve... well, it makes sense when you are saving lives. well, no, it is not, because coming under assad's control tomorrow morning, if that is to happen, is also under shia militias. again, assad has no capacity to control the country, to govern it. neither the legitimacy nor the capacity, the military capacity. he needs those foreign troops to be on the ground,
so it is too late to imagine a scenario of assad returning and retaking control of the whole country. that is not going to happen because he cannot do it. even if russia wants him to do it, he cannot achieve it. quickly, what russia seems to want, as best as we can understand, it is that they want a much more federal system, assad to still be president, much more autonomy to the different regions of syria, which would then recognise the rights of all of the different ethnic groupings within the country, a looser system but one in which still has assad at its federal centre. could you imagine accepting that? i think the russians will themselves realise that that is not going to work with assad. we want decentralisation, we want a loose control from the centre, we want obviously a democratic, participative system, so we are not disagreeing here and we are saving we need security and fighting terrorism.
we are on the side of the international community on this. is assad on the side of the international community? that is the real question to ask. is he willing to fight those jihadi groups because the shia groups arejust asjihadi as daesh group, so that is what we need to achieve. is assad a partner in doing that? i don't believe he has shown any indication of that and this is where we believe the opposition is showing every sign that it is part of the solution and that with it builds security capacity and governance capacity for a future syria. do you think we will be having this conversation again at the beginning of 2018, with syria still at war or will it be over by then? i think war will be over by then. i think the parties are exhausted and i do believe that in 2018, we will be talking about what we have reconstructed so far and how we have brought legitimate governance to the different areas of syria. that is my belief and that is what we are fighting for.
we will end on that positive note. bassma kodmani, thank you very much forjoining me from paris. we had loads down 2—8, hard frosts across the country but tomorrow it will be a real contrast. quite cloudy skies, mild for many but it will bring some rain. an early frost through the night, perhaps staying with a touch of light frost and freezing fog in the south east but cloud arrives from the west. the southerly breeze tries in milder but wetter conditions. seven or 8 degrees here first thing. it will be largely dry for cornwall, maybe cloudy. 0utbreaks largely dry for cornwall, maybe cloudy. 0utbrea ks of largely dry for cornwall, maybe cloudy. outbreaks of rain into west wales but there could be some patchy, freezing fog so something to keepin patchy, freezing fog so something to keep in mind if you are travelling
towards the capital in the rush hour. to the north and west, cloudy skies. some heavy and persistent rain. then it drips its weight east. a scattering of showers for the far east of scotland. here it will stay predominantly dry. the wetter weather slowly losing its way eastwards but it will weaken a little. perhaps staying dry in the south—east. still on the chilly side but much milder behind. double figures for northern ireland by the afternoon and that it is that mild air that wins the battle for the weekend. unfortunately, with that we keep the cloud. the rain eases during the early hours of saturday. it will be a misty, foggy start with some hill fog but that will lift, we keep the low, grey cloud, but temperatures six to 11 degrees. not
much change on sunday. the breeze freshening up into the north and out of sunday, things will change. if you can enjoy the weekend's weather. probably best to do so. it changes again as we move into monday, some more wetter and windier weather is. colder air is likely to kick in behind that weather front. more from me from the rest of the evening. take care. hello, i'm ros atkins, this is 0utside source. top us intelligence officials have been giving evidence on claims of russian interference in the us election. they say russia has an advanced cyber programme that poses a major threat to a wide range of us interests. another terror attack in turkey. this time in the city of izmir. two people have been killed. a bbc investigation has found that illegal drugs are being bought online and delivered by mail all over the uk.